Spotlight on Poker

Apr 13, 2004 5:38 AM

Many of the country’s leading poker players will converge on the Bellagio this week for the World Poker Tour Championship, which puts an exclamation point to the Five Star Poker Classic at the Bellagio.

Capping an extraordinary season of poker tournaments that have attracted more than $30 million in total prize pools, the WPT Championship takes place April 19-23. The prize pool is expected to reach $10 million.

The final table action will air in June as part of the weekly World Poker Tour series on the Travel Channel.

With poker fever at a frenzy, the WPT Championship will focus all eyes on some of the most stylish, calculating and cut-throat poker in the world. And the winner’s share of the prize purse could exceed $2 million.

The tournament will showcase the play of international stars, winners from previous WPT events, a handful of talented amateurs and even a select few celebrities. The cost to get in the door is $25,300 per seat ”” the priciest ticket in televised poker. Seats at next month’s World Series of Poker championship at Binion’s Horseshoe cost $10,000 a seat.

So far, about 200 players have already pre-registered for the WPT Championship, and many more are expected to sign up in the next few days at Bellagio. If the increases in player registrations from other WPT tournaments are any indication, current registration numbers could more than double by the opening of play at the event. The total registrations to date already exceed the 2003 field.

"The World Poker Tour has seen record numbers of players and fans turn out at our events and the WPT Championship is expected to follow suit by setting a new WPT record for the largest single tournament prize money in WPT’s history," says Steve Lipscomb, creator and president of the WPT. "Millions of fans are waiting to see who comes out on top — a seasoned pro or a wildcard amateur. In the world of high stakes poker, anything is possible with the turn of the cards."

The WPT Championship field is expected to be filled with unique personalities whose one common trait is that they play poker uncommonly well. When tournament play begins on Monday (April 19), players will hail from all over the world and range from a dot-com multimillionaire to a mother of four to a philanthropist who gives all his poker winnings to charity. Risking a half-million dollars a hand is nothing to these high stakes gamblers.

Here are some of the contenders to watch:

”¡ Dashing young former magician Antonio Esfandiari who now works more wonder with cards than just magic tricks

”¡ Three-time WPT winner Gus "The Great Dane" Hansen, who is feared and respected for his aggressive style of play

”¡ The tour’s leading money winner in 2004, 26-year-old Erick Lindgren

”¡ Seasoned veterans like T.J. Cloutier and newly-inducted WPT Poker Walk of Famer Doyle Brunson

”¡ Millionaire player Barry Greenstein who gives away his sizeable WPT poker winnings to children’s charities

”¡ Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, known for wearing a hooded grey sweatshirt and sunglasses to the table

”¡ Dot-com mogul Paul Phillips who keeps the chips rolling in — not the Silicon Valley variety, but the cashable casino kind

Observers should also keep an eye on the four "killer angels" at the table known so because they may look angelic, but play a mean game of world class poker: Annie Duke, Jennifer Harman, Clonie Gowan and Evelyn Ng

Under the tournament’s format, anyone that pays the entry fee of $25,300 can enter the WPT Championship. If you’re good enough, it’s worth the risk.

Just ask Alan Goehring, the former Wall Street analyst who pulled off an upset and surprised many by edging out the field to win last year’s WPT Championship. He’ll be back to defend his title against a field that includes many of the top pros as well as actors Jon Favreau, Mimi Rogers, Richard Karn and Ming-Na, who won their $25,000 berth by outlasting other celebrities in the recent WPT Hollywood Home Game shows.

A number of amateurs will also gain precious spots at the table via wins in satellite tournaments run by Bellagio and casinos around the country. Any one of these unknown players could also stun the field and take home the riches.

The World Poker Tour is a joint venture between Steven Lipscomb and Lakes Entertainment, Inc., which owns approximately 80 percent of WPT.

The World Poker Tour television series has captured millions of TV viewers thanks to its blend of expert commentary, cliffhanging "reality TV" drama and the WPT’s signature "ace in the hole"— its revolutionary WPT Cams, that reveal the player’s hidden cards to the television audience.

The TV series airs Wednesday nights on the Travel Channel.